Northern Michigan calls upon U.P. high school coaches, former players to find next men’s basketball coach

MARQUETTE – When Northern Michigan University announced its national search to replace former head men’s basketball coach Doug Lewis Jr., athletic director Forrest Karr readily admitted there were plenty of people in the Marquette community that knew more about basketball than him.

After all, Karr has only been in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula for nine months, plus the former academic All-American goaltender spent four years playing hockey at Notre Dame, not basketball.

“There are plenty of people in this community that know basketball better than I do,” said Karr back on March 13 after announcing Lewis’ contract would not be renewed. “I want to make sure we have those people helping us identify the best possible basketball coach.”

Karr has tapped a team of seven community members, three NMU faculty members and four university staff members to find the next head men’s basketball coach for the Wildcats with nine of the 14 search committee members having either played basketball at Northern or coached hoops at the high school level in the U.P. – or in a few cases, both.

“If you get the best basketball minds or people in the community that know the most about basketball, if you get them in a room talking basketball with candidates, I think it will help sort out who the strongest candidates are,” Karr said.

Current U.P. high school basketball coaches on the committee include Doug Ingalls of St. Ignace, Ben Smith of Marquette Senior High School and Brandon Sager of Negaunee.

Former prep coaches include Marquette’s Karla (Strand) McCutcheon and current Northern women’s basketball coach Troy Mattson, who coached Munising before becoming the assistant NMU men’s basketball coach in 1988 and serving as associate head coach from 1994-2005.

Mattson, McCutcheon, Ingalls and Sager all played for the ‘Cats, as did committee members Matt Wonders of Iron Mountain and Dan Viitala of Marquette.

Wonders, like Ingalls, Smith and McCutcheon, is a teacher while Viitala is the director of sales for the U.S. division of Bombardier Recreational Products.

Sager is Northern’s director for facilities in engineering and planning and a member of the NMU athletic council.

Other ‘basketball minds’ on the committee include NMU Sports Hall of Famer Gordy LeDuc and Bothwell Middle School Principal Bill Saunders.

LeDuc is a retired teacher and former NMU volunteer basketball coach while Saunders is in the Gus Maker Hall of Fame and a former worker for the Grand Rapids Mackers of the Continental Basketball Association.

The rest of the search committee is made up of NMU faculty members Carol Johnson (College of Business instructor and member of the NMU Athletic Council), Julie Rochester (Health, Physical Education and Recreation Department associate professor, director of athletic training and NCAA faculty athletics representative) and Suzanne Williams (chemistry professor).

Joining Mattson and Sager as NMU staff members on the committee is Health, Physical Education and Recreation Department head Mary Jane Tremethick and Jessica Jones, the NMU Foundation director of donor relations and stewardship. Jones is also a former NMU student athlete.

Following the closing date of April 8 for applications, the committee is tentatively set to review candidates and conduct interviews over Skype – video conferencing – in mid-April.

Karr said NMU would like to conduct on-campus interviews in late April with a hiring announcement made by early May.

As of Tuesday morning, NMU had 82 qualified applicants for the position through, Karr said.

Lewis coached the Wildcats for three seasons, compiling a 23-55 overall record and 13-46 mark in the GLIAC. His teams finished last in the North Division all three years.

Matt Wellens can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 252. Follow him on Twitter at